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Word Count

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I probably should keep this thought in my head while I'm scratching it.

One of the reasons why PBs these days need to be of fewer words than in the past is because parents prefer shorter stories. Yes?

I don't know a single parent who hasn't skimmed over passages or pages when reading to their kids. So with all other things being equal (if a 700 word PB can get published at the near-same/same price as a 500 word PB, the story would suffer with a 100 fewer words, etc.), I don't understand the logic.

Parents cut when reading, so why the continued push for lower and lower counts?

I admire stories that can get exquisitely told in 300 words yet sometimes I like to get more involved in a story when I read.

Most people can't tell if a book has 300 or 500 words. With longer works, they see more words. Are parents really that put off by words on a page?

(I was never read to as a kid. Not once. I would have loved snuggling in a chair or in bed, seeing the story I was hearing unfold in my head. Okay...maybe I have issues about this.  :whistle)



 
#1 - January 27, 2015, 07:21 AM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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I have no answers, Arona, only commiseration. If an awesome story can be told in 300 words, great! But I also think awesome stories can be told using more words. It's cyclical. I'm betting longer PBs will come back in time.
#2 - January 27, 2015, 09:13 AM
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A well-told story at 800 words really flies! A boring one drags. The problem is the boringness, not the length.

If the words are necessary, well chosen, and right, a book can be longer. Longer picture books are great for older children -- my seven-year-old reads both chapter books and picture books, and my 10-year-old enjoys her sister's books just as much. PBs are so much fun!

But yes, sometimes at bedtime, I groan when my daughter picks a 1,500 word book instead of a 300-word one.
#3 - January 27, 2015, 09:31 AM
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It's always about the story. I only groaned when my daughters would pull books that I didn't enjoy reading. It was usually those books that didn't have the beautiful language or the lyrical beat to them. Nonfiction picture books tend to be longer, and my daughters weren't nearly as interested in those as they were the shorter fiction books.

I don't know if the matter is solely driven by parents. Books have to compete with everything else in the world, and the world moves at a lightening speed pace today compared to how things moved when I was a child. It's also about engaging children and their interests. 
#4 - January 27, 2015, 09:47 AM
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It's cyclical. I'm betting longer PBs will come back in time.

I hope above all hope you are correct. I do love many picture books with low word counts, but when I simply read picture books for fun, I often gravitate towards the longer lyrical ones. My child did too when he was young. Language is music. 
#5 - January 27, 2015, 11:45 AM

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One of the reasons why PBs these days need to be of fewer words than in the past is because parents prefer shorter stories. Yes?

 

But this is just one reason. Picture books are now being marketed to younger children. Instead of ages 4-8, we're seeing books for ages 2-4. Kindergartners are being pushed to read on their own. They go into easy readers and chapter books earlier. The age groups for early chapter books and picture books used to be approximately the same. Now picture books seem to come first.

However, both of my kids at age three loved Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. The book takes about 45 minutes to read if you also find Goldbug on every page. It has subplots. We outlawed it at bedtime. Younger kids will surprise the industry if the industry lets them and if the longer books are good enough.

I won't even get into the question of visual literacy because I know I'm preaching to the choir anyway.

I say tell the story in the fewest number of words you need to tell, er show, the story.
#6 - February 02, 2015, 11:15 AM
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I just want to say that it's sad that so many parents only have time to read to their kids at bedtime, because although it's a great snuggly time to spend doing something so filled with quality, it's hard to summon the strength to read the long books. (I'm another mom who groans when child picks the BIG book, sigh.) I know it's so hard for parents who work one or more jobs, etc., to actually have those minutes in the daytime. When the kids were little and ate by themselves, I used to read to them then. So I didn't mind the long books!

Again, what everyone has said. Fewest words to tell the best possible story! But I think longer PBs will come back too.  :crossedfingers


However, both of my kids at age three loved Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. The book takes about 45 minutes to read if you also find Goldbug on every page. It has subplots. We outlawed it at bedtime. Younger kids will surprise the industry if the industry lets them and if the longer books are good enough.

 :flowers2  One of our favorites too. And why it's a brilliant one! But not at bedtime. As they got older, it was a favorite to be read by kids in the bathroom while they did their business.  :grin3
#7 - February 02, 2015, 12:54 PM

I just read a blurp today from an agent who wants PBs up to 800 (but don't sub any that are higher). I'd read a BB thread recently where Verla said that editors at a conference she attended wanted no more--absolutely no more--than 500 words. The difference between the two is actually a PB in itself. In the world of PBs, that's a big difference.

A BB recently signed (or pubbed?) a 1700 PB.

Since many agents/pubs typically don't (that I've seen) list word count as a criterion on their sites, it seems the story, its tightness, and appeal carries weight--otherwise they more might include absolute limits. (?) Then there's the matter of perfect timing, too....



 
#8 - February 02, 2015, 01:25 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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I actually did some research on the books listed by some agents. I checked each picture book for word count ( there is a link that has that info, will post ut when I find it) . What was heartening was there was an entire range from 391 words to 1000+ . I think if you are a debut author it might be easier to break in with a shorter word count. Once you have a track record its as many words as your story needs.


Found it!
http://www.arbookfind.com/default.aspx
#9 - February 02, 2015, 10:55 PM
« Last Edit: February 02, 2015, 10:57 PM by shilpa »
It's my iPad making the spelling mistakes, not I!

I've used AR a lot in the past, trying to get a general sense of counts for PB, chapter books, MG, etc. Like you said, there's that range, but in other genres, too. Some counts are really surprising, both ways.
#10 - February 03, 2015, 05:06 AM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

As a parent, I don't mind longer picture books during the day.  The problem is the bedtime negotiation.  "We can read three books before bed."  They inevitably pick the three longest books they own and then ask 300 questions per page to delay bedtime as long as possible so bedtime gets pushed back an extra 30 minutes.  I can read Brown Bear, Brown Bear in about 30 seconds.  My daughter now exclusively wants to read The Grinch and has an endless series of questions about the Grinch's motivation (even though the book says "don't ask us why, no one quite knows the reason" .... she seems to believe that I know the reason and am holding out on her).  Three readings of The Grinch  takes an infinite amount of time.  That said, I wouldn't balk at purchasing a longer picture book that was interesting and well written.  I would just try to read it earlier in the day and store it downstairs rather than in her room. 
#11 - February 03, 2015, 08:54 AM

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I'm with your daughter, What. I think you're holding out on her. Give up some answers, already!  :lol5
#12 - February 03, 2015, 09:06 AM
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I always want to tell her that he is probably so grumpy because people never stop asking him questions (though there is that whole 'wanting to encourage curiousity thing'....).  In my opinion --and, at this point, I am something of an expert on The Grinch, so my opinion is worth something-- the best part of The Grinch is that when he sees Cindy Lou Who he gives her a glass of water before sending her back to the bed.  Even the Grinch is powerless in the face of toddler bedtime shenanigans. 
#13 - February 03, 2015, 09:14 AM

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 :exactly
#14 - February 03, 2015, 11:40 AM
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Tell her it's because he stays up too late asking questions. If you don't get enough sleep, you become a Grinch.
#15 - February 09, 2015, 11:30 AM
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When I give pb talks at SCBWI Conferences, I encourage attendees to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.
#16 - February 09, 2015, 02:02 PM
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I hope above all hope you are correct. I do love many picture books with low word counts, but when I simply read picture books for fun, I often gravitate towards the longer lyrical ones. My child did too when he was young. Language is music. 

YES! KooZoo, I wish you were a publisher. I would send you my manuscript. :rainbow
#17 - February 09, 2015, 02:16 PM
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 :exactly Another aspect of this controversy is that children need words, a rich variety of interesting and challenging words. Descriptive words. Rhyming words. "Need" in the sense of being better equipped, more successful in almost every aspect of their future lives if they are exposed early to more and more words, vocabulary. And they are most receptive the younger they are. Pictures, graphics surround them from birth; the cereal box, the diaper box, the crib sheets, the mobiles, the, god forbid, television and computer. They can hardly fail to be exposed to pictures, be in fact, inundated by them. So, by reducing the words in their earliest books, are we doing what is best for the child? Are the editors thinking of the children? Or???
#18 - February 09, 2015, 09:52 PM
Carol Samuelson-Woodson

Miss Emily! I'd mentioned this in my original post but deleted it, and glad I did. You expressed the concern with more grace and gravity than I had.



Sales...consumers don't necessarily dictate what is produced, which means they aren't necessarily buying what they want. (Think GMO foods for starters.) Too often, we buy what's being produced under guise and spin. Not always, but more than manufacturer's (and others) want us to believe.

We read how pub's/agents are producing what the market demands, although I did read a quip from an editor who stated they train the market, mold the public to want what they want, as publishers modify the game.

 :bewildered
#19 - February 10, 2015, 06:03 AM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

Maybe by requiriging fewer words you are forced to use better words that do improve the vocabulary.  Like in Dead Poet's Society.  "A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose."  By forcing fewer words you are forced to use better words?
#20 - February 10, 2015, 04:15 PM

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It would be nice to think so; however, Captain Underpants, I Want My Hat Back? The Velveteen Rabbit, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Mrs. Beggs and the Wizard?
#21 - February 10, 2015, 08:37 PM
Carol Samuelson-Woodson

Are we getting into schools of thought territory, then? And style versus opinion?

I agree that the right word is the best word and less is more, but....

For example, some might strike the word morose as pretentious. The word also may not flow well, be in sync with the rhythm of the sentence or passage. And although very sad = morose, they can convey different "feelings" depending upon context.

#22 - February 11, 2015, 06:14 AM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

I like that I'm involved in a conversation wherein "Captain Underpants" is a counterpoint.  hahahahahaha

I bet for every "Velveteen Rabbit" they receive a thousand stories that would be improved by being cut in half and, with limited time to review everything that comes in the door it is easier to just make a strict rule. 

 Do people ever have luck with longer stories after they have first gotten in the door with a shorter story that gives you credibility? 

We have pretty strict page limits in my other job and you always start feeling like there is no way you can ever get under the limit and ending up with something way better than when you started.   
#23 - February 11, 2015, 11:56 AM

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It is a conundrum. Someone in the publishing business thinks shorter is better, and yet one of the top selling pb's is Drew Daywalt's "The Day The Crayons Quit" which is a bit lengthy. Drew shared that he was told for almost nine years that his writing stunk, so obviously it is all subjective. I say don't be afraid to write your stories at what ever length they happen to be and then edit and ask yourself if all the words are necessary to the telling of the story.

I wrote a series of three picture books all around 1000 words after I edited several times. I believe I took out all unnecessary words and what was left is needed to tell the particular stories I am sharing. I believe in the stories, so despite their length, I am still subbing them to agents in hopes that someone somewhere will see their potential.  :love5
#24 - February 13, 2015, 08:23 AM

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Thank you, Aileen. I am encouraged. :rainbow
#25 - February 13, 2015, 10:32 AM
Creative blessings to you ~

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